Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Conversations: Online Oral Assessment Tool

Every unit/chapter, I give my students an oral assessment.  I do it in a way that puts them on the spot but is super easy if they know the vocabulary/content from that chapter.

The one hard part, however, is finding the time to do these assessments.  My largest class is 31 students.  By the time I take them out of class to get the assessment done, I've wasted two days.  Not only that, but I have to find something to occupy the rest of the students for two days in order to do it.  It also takes me out of the classroom so they do not have me as a resource at that time.

Last year, a colleague of mine mentioned a program called Conversations.  This program was created by the University of Michigan and is completely free to use.  I didn't do anything with it last year.  I just never found the time.

However, at conferences last month, I started playing around with it between sessions.  Holy cow was I amazed.

With this program, I can record myself asking questions in the target language.  Then, when I am done setting it up, I can use a code to embed it into a blog post (I just put it into a blog post on my teacher website).  When the students go to that blog post, the program pops up.  All they have to do is type their name and it takes them to the questions.  They click a button and voila!  A video of me pops up, asking them the first question.  When the question is over, it automatically starts recording their response.  When they are done responding, they click "stop recording" and it takes them to the next question.  Once they respond to the last question, a green check-mark pops up and they can submit it.

To view all of them, you can go back to the conversations website and there is a column with all of the kids' names.  You can view JUST the responses or you can view them as you asking the question and then them responding.  I just make a list of my questions so I can read along as they respond (saves A LOT of time).

I implemented this for the last round of oral evals and I was shocked at how smoothly it went.  I checked out 5 laptops from the library and set them up with headphones out in the hallway.  The students took turns going out and doing the evaluation during the test.

They really liked it, too, because they didn't have a person sitting right in front of them.  The only disadvantage is you cannot repeat or reword a question for a student who didn't understand.  I always ask the question twice in my questions.  If they still don't get it, I tell them to come in and get me so I can reword the question.

You don't even have to do this as a testing tool.  You could even assign it for homework some evening or as something in class.  It is a wonderful time-saving tool.  I plan to use it again.


  1. I am so excited to try this!! I have been searching for a way to give speaking assessments that don't require my one-on-one time with each student, but also elicit spontaneous speech. One question for you: how were you able to embed the code into your blog? I have tried to embed it in mine over and over, and have had no luck (it doesn't produce a workable link) - my school's tech team is also puzzled by it. Any ideas on what I'm missing? Thanks for sharing this awesome tool!

  2. Andrea,
    Not sure what you're missing. All I did was create a new blog post on my teacher webpage and I pasted the embed link (found at the bottom of your conversations page once you have saved it) and voila! There it was! What kind of blog are you trying to embed it in? You'd have to be sure it is html compatible.

  3. I use Blogger, but just was not able to get the link to embed. However, I tried using a different route and embedding it in their "mashup" interface, and I think that will work. Thanks for your quick response - looking forward to trying it out!

  4. I'm glad you got it to work! I'm pretty sure blogger doesn't let you use html which is why it didn't work. Our teacher blogs are just through the district website they provide us with.

    Good luck! I hope it goes smoothly for you!